"Serving the International Forest Industry"
Strategic Harvest and Transportation Planning- The Foundation of Forest Activities

Stephen Aulerich
Vice President

Presented at the FEG International Forestry Engineering Conference; June 28-30, 1999; Edinburgh, Scotland.

Author presents the importance of strategic harvest and transportation planning to meet present and future physical, environmental, social, and economic goals in the forest. Knowledgeable engineers, using accurate information, can develop operationally sound plans that can be realistically implemented in the field. Quality field information allows further refinement with feasible options evaluated and solutions found for a wide variety of complex forest issues. A well thought out field-implemented strategic plan provides the framework for all subsequent forest activities.

Strategic harvest and transportation planning is the determination of how large areas will be accessed and harvested over time. Typical areas range from 500 to 10,000 hectares and may include multiple watersheds. All areas, where forest management is to take place, are scrutinized and planned. The main goal of the strategic planning process is to determine all logical harvest and transportation options and to provide a tool for the efficient investigation of these options in the field. Feasible options must be safe, productive, economical, and meet environmental constraints. Proposed road locations and harvest systems are determined and depicted on maps and aerial photos. Field implementation and verification of the strategic plan includes the determination of roads, landings, and harvest boundaries.

The strategic plan provides a sound foundation for many activities. The plan will indicate what harvest and transportation systems will be required across the landscape. If the engineering plan is followed, the forest can provide many valuable resources on a sustainable basis. Impacts to the forest will be minimized if the strategic plan is foresighted enough to address likely future constraints. Plans which consider the future, as well as the present, will be more successful at adapting to new conditions. Being able to successfully meet increasing expectations while producing forest products is a common goal of most forest professionals. Strategic planning is a proven way of accomplishing this task.

One of the most powerful aspects of strategic planning is the ability to adapt to market opportunities. Specific forest resources can be targeted with a thorough understanding of what it will take to access and harvest them. Harvesting costs pale in comparison to the revenue generated when customerâs needs are met by providing a quality product on time. Strategic planning allows customers to know what they have, where it is, and what it will take to harvest. The ability to go directly to a specific timber stand with a target species mix, without jeopardizing future harvesting opportunities, is also a benefit. Emergency or short-term activities, such as fire or insect salvage, can likewise be carried out without adversely impacting future opportunities.

A greater acceptance by regulatory agencies of this level of planning can reduce the time required for processing permits. The plans are generally understandable and defendable, and reviewers have confidence in the process. Faster plan approval times allow operations to be scheduled more easily to meet specific markets.

Roading and Harvesting
Strategic planning optimizes the needs of both roading and harvesting. Location, location, location..·what is important in real estate is also true with roads. Careful thought must be given to the ãlocationä of the roading systems with respect to the harvesting function. Suitable landings and terrain breaks are identified, and the road system is built through these whenever possible. Roads built along terrain breaks allow better yarding opportunities by enhancing deflection. The resulting road network is shorter with more harvesting opportunities than if planning is sporadic or ãpiecemeal.ä Fewer roads means a savings in capital and maintenance costs. Roads located to facilitate harvesting will reduce harvesting costs. Strategic plans allow the identification of specific roads meeting certain standards. Roads can be budgeted and built according to present and future needs. Strategic plans in roaded areas often show roads that are in the ãwrong placeä or are no longer needed. These roads can be closed or obliterated. Strategic planning may also indicate a preferred route through adjacent landownerâs property. Easements or land purchases can often be negotiated in a timely fashion.

Strategic planning determines likely harvesting systems requirements (Aulerich 1991). System needs can be identified and compared to existing equipment available. If new technologies need to be incorporated, these can be introduced over time. Equipment can be budgeted and purchased, and crews trained in its use.

Safety is incorporated into the plan by addressing many of the physical aspects. Roads and harvest units must be planned to insure that operations can proceed with minimal risk to the operators as well as other forest users. The safest way of doing something tends to be operationally feasible and productive. Making sure there are adequate landings, anchors, deflection, etc. to physically and safely operate is required. For example, downhill yarding into a mid-slope road without a landing area may reduce the ratio of road to volume accessed, but it is oftentimes neither safe nor productive.

Layout costs are greatly reduced when field crews are given feasible planning tools that allow them to be organized and motivated. Management can set realistic time lines and provide the necessary resources to perform the work. Maps and photo images detail the type of working conditions likely to be encountered. Slope, vegetation types, and existing access are easily identifiable.

The strategic plan allows the layout crew to be very productive because they can focus on specific routes and harvesting issues. The trained field crews do not have to wander all over the hillside but can utilize the plan to tell them where to investigate and what information to collect. Safety is enhanced since the crews know exactly (within a few meters) where they are all the time. The difficult and complex terrain receives more attention than the easy terrain. Accurate information is collected on specific issues. Engineering standards keep the data consistent so all interested parties can understand and utilize it. Field data is organized and incorporated into the overall strategic plan. Likely transportation routes are identified and tied into easily identifiable points in the field.

The strategic plan provides enough detail to allow crews the ability to schedule their work day to gain efficiencies. Each crew knows what they will accomplish for the day and can coordinate their activities.

Water Quality
Strategic planning minimizes impacts and risks to water quality by minimizing soil disturbance from haul and skid roads. Fewer haul roads and skid trails are required when an area is planned to optimize both transportation and harvesting systems. Cable yarding systems are enhanced by placing haul roads along breaks in the topography. Ground skidding systems are enhanced by placing haul roads below wood to be skidded. Opportunities to place roads in more favorable locations can often be found during the strategic planning process. Difficult areas are avoided when several options are determined and evaluated.

A strategic plan done in a fully-roaded area can often find opportunities for road deactivation. Evaluating the existing road network for present and future access requirements will indicate which roads are no longer needed. Road deactivation without a strategic plan may lead to eliminating a road that may be required in the future.

Strategic planning allows harvest operations to be working in more favorable conditions throughout the year. Planning your operations to allow more flexibility to move ground skidding operations off sensitive sites can reduce impacts as well as enhance productivity.

A strategic plan that incorporates the flexibility to successfully utilize a number of silviculture systems across the landscape allows the ability to maintain a variety of wildlife habitats. Placing road systems above the timber to be cable harvested allows partial cutting systems to be realistically considered. Snags, individual trees, or groups of trees can be left after harvesting to enhance wildlife opportunities. Group selection systems can also be utilized.

The strategic plan identifies the roads and logical harvest units for the entire landscape. Trained professionals can utilize the plan to provide input for specific wildlife requirements. During the field implementation process, individual features, such as trails, nests, or dens, can be identified and incorporated into the plan. Difficult harvesting areas, better suited to wildlife habitat than for timber production, can also be identified and reserved. Scheduling of operations during specific times of the year and controlling access can help some wildlife species.

In many parts of the world there is an ever increasing need to reduce visual impacts of harvesting operations on steep slopes. Visual considerations can be incorporated into the strategic planning process. Road location and construction techniques can greatly impact visual quality. Large cut or fill slopes can often be seen from great distances. If the plan incorporates uphill cable yarding for the steeper portions, a variety of partial cutting or group selection techniques utilizing ãcontoured reservesä (Aulerich 1997) can be performed to reduce visual impacts by providing a screen of trees.

Quality strategic plans need to be developed from accurate information. Information on timber, topography, soils, silviculture, water, wildlife, cultural resources, ownership patterns, existing and proposed roads, and planning already in progress needs to be collected. The information can be digital or hard copy in the form of documents, maps, and images. Accurate, engineering-quality, topographic maps with a scale of 1:5,000 and 5-meter contour intervals have proven to be very useful for planning (Aulerich 1995). Maps should be checked for accuracy before extensive planning is done. Poor maps cause problems when field implementing the plans. New technologies are very beneficial. Digital images provide an excellent background for displaying the harvest and transportation plan.

Strategic plans should be generated and implemented by knowledgeable staff. Strategic planners need to be well versed in all aspects of systems and equipment and be trained to utilize the information and resources available. A knowledgeable planner can identify what harvest and transportation systems should be used to meet current and possible future conditions and constraints. New harvesting technologies may need to be introduced, made attractive with local harvesting expertise developed. Thorough knowledge by field staff, who are able to understand and implement the strategic plans, is also critical. Field staff do the bulk of the physical data collection and implementation and can derive the most benefit by increased layout efficiencies.

Other professional staff should understand the benefits of strategic planning across a landscape and be able to tie their expertise into the framework and survey control established by the implementation of a strategic plan in the field.

Support from management is critical to the success of strategic planning. Strategic planning requires costs up-front to realize future benefits (most within a couple of years). An appreciation of how todayâs actions affect future opportunities is key. The idea of forest stewardship or a land ethic is often required.

Strategic harvest and transportation planning offers many benefits. A strategic plan provides a sound foundation for many activities and decision making. It allows you to take advantage of markets and to serve your customers with the products they want. Operations benefit since the roads are located to facilitate harvesting. Layout is enhanced which reduces costs and improves harvesting opportunities. Techniques which reduce impacts to water, soil, and wildlife are incorporated. Knowledgeable staff and quality information is required. Support from management to provide needed resources is critical to strategic planning success.

Aulerich S. 1991. Technology transfer from the research laboratory to the practicing forester and logger. Proceedings of a Symposium on Forest Harvesting in Southeast Asia, Singapore. p. 131-136.

Aulerich S. 1995. Appropriate guidelines and techniques required to improve the use of native forests. Conferencia Mundial de Plywood Tropical, Quito, Ecuador.

Aulerich, S. 1997. Cable logging with contoured reserves-ãwienerä logging. Council on Forest Engineering, Rapid City, South Dakota.

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